UFC welterweight and fourth-degree BJJ black belt Demian Maia is not a fan of MMA’s WWE-esque approach to marketing.
In an episode of The MMA Hour (transcribed by MMA Mania), Maia told host Ariel Helwani that true fans want to see the fighters who win, not the fighters who talk:
That’s another thing I think is a mistake. Every sport in the world, football, soccer, every sport that has many years and is consolidated, people like to watch because they want to see the winner. They don’t watch the NBA, or the Australian open in tennis becasue they want to see the guy who talks more or the guy is more outspoken. They wants to see (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal because they are the best. They don’t want to see someone just because they play more fancy. At the end of the day, who follows sport likes to see who wins.
Maia cited fighters like GSP as examples. Right up until his last fight against Johny Hendricks, Georges St-Pierre was one of the biggest draws in MMA. He was also one of the quietest and most respectful. In fact, even his fighting style was ridiculed as “boring” by some, due to his wrestle-heavy performances and low finish rate. Yet still, he sold more tickets and pay-per-view buys than most (if not all) fighters on the roster.
And though Maia doesn’t mention it, Anderson Silva is another good example of a quiet fighter brought in mountains of cash for the UFC. During his reign as the UFC’s middleweight champion, Silva drew huge crowds, especially from Brazil. Yet, much like GSP (and perhaps with the exception of his fights against Chael Sonnen), Silva was a respectful and fairly quiet opponent who rarely, if ever, reverted to trash-talking.
Demian Maia did not just applaud fighters who earned their fame by fighting alone. He also warned that MMA’s focus on big-mouthed draws would turn the sport into nothing more than WWE. While this might provide some short-term success, it would kill the sport in the long run.
Some people like to see people who talk shit, but those are not the people who are going to carry on the sport forever. If we don’t change as we think as a sport, the sport will be remembered as a nice thing ten years from now, but it has gone. I don’t think it will last for sure like that. People watched the Super Bowl because they want to see the best teams, not go there to see who talked more or plays different, they want to see the best. The true fans of the sport are the ones that carry on this sport and will influence others to like. So I think it’s a lie when they say they are looking for money fights, that’s just looking for short-term things. If you just keep looking short term, I think you will ruin the sport and end up ruining UFC and people will start to just give up. People will realize it is not a sport anymore and you can not fool the people all the time.
Whether you love Conor McGregor or not, Maia has a point. No other sport focuses as much on personality as MMA. Perhaps what mixed martial arts need to do is drop the antics and focus more on the good fighters rather than the exciting ones. While the fair weather fans might be entertained by insults and hurling water bottles, the true fans will love the sport for the sake of the sport – and they will be the ones keeping it alive for decades to come.